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12/30/2009
10:04 PM
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The Myth Of Reliability

Two outages for BlackBerry users around Christmas prompted many complaints and threats from angry users via online forums, blog posts, and tweets. I'm not sure if there's really an issue here.

Two outages for BlackBerry users around Christmas prompted many complaints and threats from angry users via online forums, blog posts, and tweets. I'm not sure if there's really an issue here.Sure, the hiccups were probably very maddening to the customers affected by them, and it seems that at least one of the two problems whacked BlackBerry service across much of North America. Technology products don't work flawlessly or permanently any more so than human beings do. Yet this magazine reported that the outages prompted angry posts from users threatening to switch products, questioning RIM's customer service, and even challenging the CEO's focus.

One of the miracles of the social mediaification of communications is a leveling of volume, in that every tidbit of information is as importantly loud as every other. This is great for giving voice to the previously speechless -- like downtrodden customers, citizens, or anyone who was once ignored -- but it removes any absolute meaning from those utterances as it makes every statement relative. I know that the crowd is supposed to vet these things and impose some order, and that the very sense of objective meaning might have been a ghost created by old, one-way media, but still…is every complaint valid? Even loud, well-presented ones?

This is a particularly thorny conundrum when it comes to technology brands, as there are always a die-hard group of users who have unreasonable expectations for performance, reliability and, well, absolute meaning from the stuff they own. These are all myths, yet dare to challenge any of them and a technology brand risks unbridled contempt (or worse, like angry retweets).

If you buy the idea that the absolutists are "influencers" who have to be mollified and coddled, then it's an issue, and there are a lot of marketers who will make the case (and make money delivering it).

But I sense that we don't just trade perspective for the exposure of information online; the info comes with a half-life about as long as the lifetime of a gnat. The wild uproar of angry Crackberry users will likely fade as quickly as it arose, unless of course RIM continues to have problems, at which time(s) they'll rise up again to make their disappointment known.

So maybe the crowd works after all? Or is the proper cliche "a tempest in a teapot," or maybe "making a mountain out of a mole hill?"

Jonathan Salem Baskin is a global brand strategist, writes the Dim Bulb blog, and is the author of Bright Lights & Dim Bulbs.

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